Objectives: The purpose of this study was to investigate left atrial appendage size, function and thrombus prevalence in patients with atrial "fibrillation-flutter."
Background: Thrombus formation and peripheral embolization in atrial fibrillation are related to left atrial appendage dysfunction. Embolization occurs less frequently in atrial flutter. It is not known whether the atrial appendage in fibrillation-flutter, which has an intermediate appearance on the surface electrocardiogram (ECG), has distinct characteristics that could affect thrombus formation.
Methods: Sixty-one patients with atrial tachyarrhythmias underwent transesophageal echocardiographic examination of the left atrial appendage. Appendage area, peak emptying velocity and the presence of thrombus and spontaneous echo contrast were determined. The results for 14 patients with fibrillation-flutter (based on ECG fibrillatory wave characteristics) were compared with those for 30 patients with atrial fibrillation and 17 patients with atrial flutter.
Results: Both fibrillation-flutter and atrial fibrillation were associated with chaotic appendage flow patterns with similarly low peak emptying velocities (18 +/- 8 and 17 +/- 10 cm/s, mean +/- 1 SD, respectively). Atrial flutter was associated with a regular pattern of appendage contraction and a significantly higher peak emptying velocity (42 +/- 18 cm/s, p < 0.0001). Mean appendage area was similar for fibrillation-flutter and fibrillation (6.3 +/- 2.2 and 6.7 +/- 2.1 cm2, respectively) but was significantly smaller for atrial flutter (5.3 +/- 1.4 cm2, p < 0.05). The prevalence of left atrial appendage thrombus was similar for fibrillation-flutter and atrial fibrillation (40% and 29%, respectively), whereas no patient with atrial flutter had a thrombus (p < 0.05). Similarly, the presence of spontaneous echo contrast was higher for fibrillation-flutter (50%) and atrial fibrillation (40%) than for atrial flutter (6%, p < 0.05).
Conclusions: Left atrial appendage size and function in atrial fibrillation-flutter are indistinguishable from those of typical atrial fibrillation, and the frequency of thrombus and spontaneous echo contrast is similarly high. This is in contrast to atrial flutter, which is characterized by a smaller, more contractile left atrial appendage and a lower frequency of thrombus and spontaneous echo contrast.